Editor’s Note: This is the second in a two-part mini-series on our work in coordination with member centres in the Philippines. Look back to Thursday for Tessa’s post on the Balay Rehabilitation Centre on monitoring torture in detention.
“Are children being tortured?”
This is a question I have been asked many times when explaining IRCT‘s current project on children and torture.
Unfortunately, the answer is yes. The next question is usually an (understandable) staggering, “Why?”
On a recent IRCT mission to the Philippines, the aim was to investigate this question in the context of the Philippines together with IRCT’s Quezon City-based member centre BALAY Rehabilitation Centre.
Globally, the issue of tortured children is rarely highlighted. Often reference is made to child abuse and violence against children, but torture against children is rarely included as a specific category. The objective behind the children’s project is to document cases of tortured children in the Asian region, and not least to find out why and how it is happening in order to develop measures for prevention and rehabilitation.
In Manila and its surrounding cities, it is especially street children, children living in poverty and children coming from broken families who are at risk of being tortured; either as a punishment for having committed a crime, or as a means of making them confess to a crime they might never have committed. Why this is happening is a complex matter, but the root causes include poverty, corruption, lack of awareness and lack of preventative measures.
During the mission to the Philippines, a round-table discussion on the issue of children and torture in the Philippines was held. The round-table brought together representatives from national and international NGOs working with children, agencies of the Philippine government working on child-related matters, prison management staff, social workers, lawyers and health professionals.
The purpose of round-table discussions is exactly that – bringing together different perspectives and disciplines in order to highlight an issue. At this round-table the presence of so many different perspectives proved crucial for understanding why torture against children is happening in the Philippines and what can be done about it.
For example, representatives from the prison management showed that they are receiving children from the police, although the police know or should know that the children are to be referred to youth homes according to a 2006 law on juvenile justice. At least one of the reasons as to why the police continue to refer the children to the prison authorities is the insufficient number of youth homes available in the Philippines and the incapability of the existing ones to accommodate and rehabilitate the children due to a lack of funding and support.
One of the representatives of the prison management explained yet another reason when discussing torture of children by the police at the round-table:
“The police still turn over children to us saying they are not minors because of their behavior. For the police, what the children have done is not something children can do, so to them they are not children any longer.”
As an answer to the recommendations given at the round-table she continued:
“What we can do is recommend a policy of hiring, which demands of a person to have understanding of care for children. Even uniform people are also humans they can be made to respond to children. If you strip off their uniform, they are still humans.”
On a practical level the round-table provided for a possibility to raise the awareness of and need for documentation on cases of tortured children. On an idealistic level, the round-table became a reminder that dialogue with all people involved – NGOs, the government, child advocates, prison officials, and police – including the ones you disagree with or do not expect to know or understand the issue, is crucial to address torture of children in the Philippines.
About a week after the recent our mission to the Philippines, we received a mail from BALAY saying they had been asked for input to the Philippine National Plan of Action for Children (NPAC) 2011-2016 and that the input could concern children and torture in the Philippines.
The NPAC forms part of the Philippine’s response to signing the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and is based on the Millennium Development Goals set by the United Nations. The main purpose of the NPAC is to set out five year plans and goals for improving the welfare and well-being of children in the Philippines. Since the knowledge of the issue of tortured children is low even among organizations working with children in the Philippines, the possibility of providing input to the national planning on this matter is of immense importance.
The draft NPAC we received did not include any programming or information on tortured children. Instead, they focused on issues related to children and violence and child abuse. This reflected the information we had been able to gather during the mission that made it clear that torture of children has failed to reach the national agenda and attention in the Philippines, although it is a concerning and highly prevalent practice.
In cooperation with BALAY we were able to add comments on torture and children in the NPAC policy. This is the first time children and torture is mentioned in a national policy document on children in the Philippines. By the 10th December we will know whether our comments were accepted – for now we are crossing our fingers.